Pantomime history goes back farther than we can document. Legend has it that men used to tell stories of their hunting expeditions or even the history of their tribes using only body movements and facial expressions.
"Pantomime" comes from the Greek word "pantomimus" and literally means "imitating all." Originally it was a form of dance that told a story and was very popular among the Romans - right up until public displays were forbidden by the Christian church!
In the 17th Century, the Commedia dell'Arte
, which was an Italian renaissance improvisation theater, spread throughout Europe and England, establishing itself mostly in Paris, France. The stars of these productions were characters that included Pagliaccio
(known as Pierrot
in English) or Arlecchino
The ability to "pantomime" meant being able to communicate beyond language and/or class barriers. This allowed traveling groups from England to perform throughout Europe without the need to learn the languages of the local areas. You would often see various elements of the Commedia dell'Arte in the acts of these traveling entertainers.
The 18th Century saw a form of the Commedia dell'Arte which was danced by the performers. This form became known as "Pantomime." These pantomimes helped to loosen the restrictions that high society had on forms of music and dance that they considered acceptable. The pantomimes were considered "true art."
Click here to find out more about the various Clown Types.